As an engineer I never hesitate to create a new word when an old one just won't do. In that vein, I'm eager to support Shannon Love's effort to launch the word "preed" as a single word to describe the concept we currently label as "greed for power".
While linking to a Megan McArdle comment on a childish Matthew Yglesias post on bankers, Instapundit asks a question that reveals a void in our language and world-models:“DOES GREED MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON? What about greed for power, a trait exhibited by many of those who denounce greed for money? Which is worse?”
Why does Instapundit have to use the cumbersome phrase “greed for power” to describe a very common human behavior? Why do we have to describe the lust for power in terms of the lust for money?
Love goes to great length to suggest a reason why English doesn't already have a word for preed. I'm not sure how accurate her explanation is, but she spins a compelling narrative.
What does it tell us that English and every other Western language have a single word to describe the destructive lust for money but that they lack a single word to describe the destructive lust for political power?
After all, it is not as if we lack any experience with the destructive effects of the single-minded pursuit of power. From the very worst such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot down to some jackass on the city council, most of us have seen individuals cause real harm to others just to increase their own political power. Why then do we not have a word for such destructive behavior?
I think the answer simple. Historically, people who lust for power will kill you quicker and more surely than will those who lust for money.
It has been noted correctly that the local dog catcher has more arbitrary authority over any citizen than does Bill Gates, currently the richest man in America. Bill Gates cannot set one foot on my property if I don’t wish him to but the dog catcher can do so against my will under the color of his authority. If I beat up Bill Gates for trespassing, he will go to jail not I. If I resist the dog catcher, it will trigger a chain of events which can lead to my death at the hands of a SWAT team. That can happen even if the dog catcher is not corrupt. If he is corrupt, things can go very badly, very quickly even for a law-abiding person.
All the power of the state for good or bad arises from the power of the state to kill. The lowest public official wields the power to initiate a string of events that will lead to the death of citizens who resist that power. This has always been the case throughout history. The “nobles” of pre-democratic western cultures were nothing but a caste of intermarried families of military specialists who maintained their position over the rest of society by killing. During this time, the clergy was often composed of the same family members and benefited materially from the killers’ extortion from the productive elements of society. Nobles and clergy survived and lived richly by stealing from the peasants, artisans and merchants. They needed propaganda to justify why people who could do nothing but kill had an inherent right to take from those who cultivated, created and distributed. For thousands of years, those who killed have held both their purse strings and their swords to the throats of the clergy, philosophers and artists who over the generations created our cultural narratives of good and bad behavior. Those narrative-creators who created stories that glorified the killers grew rich, stayed alive and had their works preserved throughout the ages. Those who did not ended up dead and their works erased from history. The killers wanted to take from peasants, so the word for peasant, villager, from the Latin villi meaning “farmhand”, became by the medieval age the word “villain”. To take from the artisan or merchant, they needed to cast the merchant’s accumulation of material wealth without violence as a sin, so we have the invention of the sin and word, “greed”. By contrast, the very name of the caste of killers, “noble” became a synonym for virtue and self-sacrifice.
Also a powerful reminder that royalty, nobles, and knights are romantic, they're the physical manifestations of an oppressive, violent, and exploitative social system that we've done well to leave behind. We need to make sure that our present political caste doesn't fall into this mold and forget that they work for us.